Rain clears the air up north

Commercial flights resume to Fairbanks International Airport

Posted: Sunday, August 09, 2009

ANCHORAGE - A second day of rain Friday partially cleared Fairbanks of forest fire smoke, allowing a full slate of commercial flights into Fairbanks International Airport.

Eric Engman / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Eric Engman / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Alaska Airlines canceled 20 flights over a 24-hour period that ended late Thursday afternoon but was flying into Alaska's second largest city without interruption Thursday night and Friday, said spokeswoman Caroline Boren.

"We hope to have all of the customers whose flights were impacted accommodated by the end of today," she said Friday.

The Federal Aviation Administration never shut down Fairbanks International Airport but visibility did not meet minimum requirements for Alaska Airlines jets, Boren said.

Fires surround Fairbanks on three sides and smoke has ranged from a minor irritation to a potential health hazard, at times canceling outdoor athletic events.

Rain began Thursday and continued into Friday. Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Pete Buist said showers were scattered by Friday morning and had stopped by the afternoon.

The rain slowed the Wood River 1 fire, which covers 193 square miles in a limited suppression area southwest of Fairbanks. The fire's northern edge is just 17 miles from city limits. Nearly a half-inch of rain was reported Thursday.

Rain allowed firefighters to make progress on the Hard Luck Creek fire northwest of Fairbanks, said Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Bob Summerfield.

The fire covers just 10 square miles but burned three cabins this week in a recreation area near the Chatanika River reached by a rugged four-wheel-drive only road off Murphy Dome. Summerfield said rain kept the fire to minimal growth and let firefighters gain ground in completing fire breaks and protecting structures.

Rain also fell on the Railbelt Complex Fires west of Parks Highway communities Nenana and Anderson. The three fires in the complex grew by 164 acres and now have burned 908 square miles. They began with lightning strikes June 21.

Firefighters lifted the evacuation noticed for Anderson's Windy Creek Subdivision, where about 30 buildings were threatened.

As of Friday afternoon, the Alaska road conditions Web site continued to urge motorists to use extreme caution on the Parks Highway between Miles 290 and 340 because visibility was diminished and fire crews were on the highway.

"It's a lot better than it was 48 hours ago," Buist said.

Wet weather and dense smoke kept fixed-wing aircraft grounded but 606 people worked to contain the fires.

Even with the rain, skies around Fairbanks remained gloomy. Fog and mist limited visibility Friday morning and smoke was around again in the afternoon.

Summerfield said much less rain reached the Crazy Mountain complex of fires, started by lightning June 20, where 311 people are working to contain the three fires near the community of Circle and the Canada border. The fires have burned 688 square miles.

The forecast in eastern interior Alaska called for a chance of showers Sunday and Monday, along with a cooling trend. Officials reported active fire between Miles 147 and 158 Steese Highway with numerous burning trees that could fall and delay traffic. Dust and smoke limited visibility.

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